Hockey is coming. One of the most popular pass-times in Vancouver is crapping on Toronto, regarded as the "center of the Universe". As much as I delight in the futility of the Leafs, I must confess that because the team has sucked so badly since the lockout, mocking the Leafs feels like kicking a dead horse. Last season the Leafs were brutal, but not brutal enough to get a top 5 draft pick. It was hilarious! For the first time in my life, I was cheering for the Leafs to win, because each victory diminished the probability of the Leafs acquiring future superstar John Tavares.
Enter the savior, Brian Burke, who took over the team part way through the season. He did everything he could to tank the season without appearing to do so deliberately, fielding a roster of glorified AHL players. Bumps and bruises knocked out veterans for the season, to have their roster spots filled by the likes of Jamie Heward, Phil Oreskovic, Jeff Hamilton, etc. Then a victory against the Ottawa Senators on the last game of the season vaulted them from 5th last to 7th last, and on the outside looking in on the top 5 in the draft lottery.
After this disappointing end to a dissapointing season, Burke decided to raise his own profile (as he is naturally inclined to do) by making grandiose statements in press conferences. Whether he was trying to wet the palate of Leaf fans or whether he seriously believed that he could get John Tavares without trading any of his young assets, we'll never know. Since Schenn was really the only blue chip prospect in his hand, he would have to be part of the deal to acquire one of the most anticipated young players in history. To believe otherwise would be foolish. Then later in the summer, he makes a big point about how the Leafs would spend to the salary cap every year because they are "big blue". And yet, I would be shocked if they come close to the cap this season.
At the draft, there was a rumour of trading Kaberle and a draft pick for Kessel, who at the tender young age 21 scored 36 goals, which was shot down because Burke insisted that Kaberle was enough to acquire Kessel. Kaberle being a 31 year old defenseman with 100,000 miles on the odometer whom the Leafs have ridden harder than "Seattle Slew" over the past decade logging over 30 minutes of ice almost every night. Kessel on the other hand, is a potential 50 goal scorer. If peak performance is at 27 and Kessel scored 36 at age 21, what is his ceiling? The idea proposed by Leaf reporter Howard Berger that Boston should do the deal because Toronto would be doing them a favour by taking the salary off of their hands was said through blue coloured glasses. Yes, you have an immensely talented 21 year old, give him to us and let us pay him, and in exchange we will give you a D-man 10 years older whom we’ve already ridden for 22,000 minutes in the last decade and whose body is about to begin breaking down. That is asinine.
Then they trade Pogge and Strahlman, two guys who were supposed to be building blocks of the future. For Strahlman, they got Wayne Primeau and a 35% chance at a roster player in 2013. Primeau has virtually no on ice value, hence why Burke wanted him. A big last name, gets fans excited, with a ceiling of 10 goals this season, but at this point is nothing more than a below average aging veteran. Clearly Burke is running a short term scorched earth strategy. Fuel a dumpster fire for his first full season as GM, increase the probability of acquiring Taylor Hall, and then start a new building process with Kadri and Hall as the cornerstone. It makes sense, and from a pragmatic perspective Leaf fans should be cheering losses this season, because you ain’t making the playoffs, even if you happen to be 10 points out with a month to play. I agree with Burke, tear it down and build it back up. But he has set the price too high for Kaberle, whom he has to move. Kaberle does not fit into his window. He has to move him. The Leafs have 10 D who could play in the NHL this season.
I advise Leaf fans not to believe what Burke says, but you can trust him in the long term. If he tries to sell you on the Leafs chances this season or how much you need Kaberle, that is bullshit.